Whether you sell your goods and services online or not, it's important to have an online community of your customers. In last week's #RetailTuesday post, I talked about a client who's Selfie Contest wasn't working because they hadn't built up their community enough. But being able to have your promotions and contests succeed isn't the only reason you need to build your online community.
In the process of building your online customer community, the things you need to do to make it work are things that are only going to enhance your business. You need to help your customers by providing them with good content and resources. You need to be able to handle the transparency that comes with this online world, so you need to enhance your products or services and improve your overall business systems and processes. Doing these things not only help you attract the right customers to your community, they add equity and value to your business.
Also, if you are strategic about how you're going to build your community, it forces you to identify what your goals are and to put a strong purpose behind your efforts. That way, you're not just doing something online because you think it's what companies are supposed to do, but because it has strategic value in how you're building your community. Do all this right and you have an edge over your competition. You will stand out, because so few businesses are building communities the right way. That's a competitive advantage.
I spoke last week at the Social Media Connect – Detroit conference on this subject and you can find my deck (along with the decks of all the presentations) at SMCDetroit.com. Here are some of the highlights from that talk on how to build an online customer community.
Numbers + Engagement = Community. If you're doing any social media for your company at all, your customer community is the most important part of your social media program. Without a community, nothing happens. In order to make something happen, you need to have both numbers and engagement. While it's true that social media isn't about how many likes or follows you get, it's also true that if you don't have very many, it's not a viable community. But numbers alone don't work either, you need to have a community that is engaged; one that comes back often enough to participate in ongoing discussions and events. If your community isn't engaged and invested in what happens there, nothing will ever happen.
The easiest way to get both numbers and engagement is to just ask. There's an old saying that you won't get what you want unless you ask for it. You can build up your numbers by simply asking people to join. Put sighs in your office, store or restaurant asking people to join your social media communities, write a Yelp review or read your latest blog post. Put the icons on your website. Put the ask in your print materials and email sign offs. Ask customers personally to be a part of your community when you talk to them.
You can also ask for the engagement. Ask them what you can do better. Ask them what products they would like to see. Make them a part of new product development. Ask them what is the best part of what you do. Every question like that will elicit responses, which will grow your engagement.
Employees are a great resource for building your community. Your employees are you touchpoints with your customers. They are also part of the product, part of the business culture. Invite them to be a part of the community and encourage them to participate. When they join your online community, not only does that increase your numbers, but they become a valuable asset within the community. They are the ones who can talk to the customers with a real perspective on what the company's about. Also, they can encourage their customers to become part of the community. If the employee and customer had a good experience together, this is a place that good experience can continue.
Create and share helpful content. Customers have needs that your business helps solve. You have information that goes beyond the sale and shows how you are an expert in your field and can help improve their lives. If you can create blog posts, how to videos, infographics, picture or even simple social media posts that give them helpful information, they will keep coming back and engaging in your community. This will create loyalty, word of mouth marketing and more sales.
These are just some of the ways you can build your customer community. To find out more, see the deck from my presentation or just give me a shout, here, via social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org.